After their cancer treatment was done, about 14% of patients overall and 23% of those who used opioids during treatment continued to use opioids. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Attorney General's Office/Twitter
When a teen or young adult has sarcoma, a type of cancer in the bones or soft tissues, a doctor will often prescribe opioids for the pain.
A new study found that nearly a quarter of those young people continue to take opioids after their treatment is done.
"These results highlight the need to monitor young patients with sarcoma for post-treatment opioid use, given the potential negative impacts of long-term opioid use, including misuse and overdose," said study lead author Melissa Beauchemin, an assistant professor at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City.
"Age- and developmentally appropriate strategies to effectively manage pain while minimizing opioid exposure are urgently needed," she said.
Beauchemin noted that teens and young adults are a vulnerable population because they have benefitted less than younger and older cancer patients from recent advances.
For the new study, the researchers used a large insurance claims database to analyze information on patients aged 10 to 26 years old who had not received prior opioids and who were diagnosed with sarcoma between 2008 and 2016.
Among the 938 patients in the analysis, 64% received opioid prescriptions during treatment.
After their cancer treatment was done, about 14% of patients overall and 23% of those who used opioids during treatment continued to use opioids. They met the criteria for new persistent use, which was defined as at least two opioid prescriptions in the 12 months after treatment ended.
The findings were published online recently in Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society.
Factors associated with persistent opioid use included being covered by Medicaid versus commercial insurance having bone tumors versus soft tissue tumors and taking lorazepam, a medication often used to treat anxiety and sleeping problems.
Patients who have sarcoma often develop damaged and fractured bones. They typically undergo major surgeries.
Beauchemin said doctors should prioritize safe and early discontinuation of opioids for those young patients who require them for pain management.
"Further, there is a critical need for clinical practice guidelines to support clinical decision making to safely and effectively manage pain specifically for adolescents and young adults with cancer," she said in a journal news release.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on opioids.
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